Words by Jesper Grundahl
Pictures by Kristof Ramon
Around where I live it’s common to give it whatever you’ve got, and sprint up all hill climbs at full throttle as fast as you can. This isn’t a problem because the length of these climbs are relatively short although some of them zap nicely at your legs.
I remember clearly the first time I visited Mallorca. Eager to get a taste of real climbing. Having arrived late in the afternoon there was only time for a quick ride towards Formentor. My colleague at the time lead the way out of Port de Pollenca with me wheel-sucking at the back. Part excited, part nervous, but most certainly with all engines at full blast and eager to prove myself.
The wiser of you may already have worked what happened next, and in my defence I honestly believed in my own powers. No, truly. Upon arrival at the foot of the climb I immediately let rip, and passed my extremely experienced, and extremely capable climbing colleague, in true Fabio Aru fashion.
For a while I felt superior. In fact, for while I even think I truly thought I could distance my superior colleague, leaving him utterly behind. Alone. Having to face the climb himself while I soared towards the sky with my new given wings. Feeling like a majestic angel rising from the asses to new found glory.
Alas, you do become wiser by experiencing things yourself, and the sorry fact is I died a thousand deaths a couple of hundred meters up while my extremely capable climbing colleague whizzed past me. Leaving me to burn in Hell and my own self pity with my lungs hanging out, and legs resembling fresh homemade Jelly pudding.
Let’s face it, I’m not Fabio Aru. I never will be. I am only me, so when facing a wall of rock things need to take time. At 64 kilos I am blessed with not having too much of a burden on the climbs, but the local rule of speeding up the climb isn’t something I practice when away in the high mountains. Instead I enjoy the moment of being there, and as part of my job description, I reserve the right to stop and shoot pictures from time to time.
There won’t be many stops, or shooting pictures for Bob Jungels, Vincenzo Nibila, Rafal Majka, Chaves Esteban and Alejandro Valverde this weekend in Giro D’Italia when they too, finally, will face the walls of rock of Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella, Plan de Gralba, Passo Gardena, Passo Giau and Passo Valparola. The Giro is in its second week, and this weekend the thumb-screws are so to speak put on. And tightened. Who has got it and who hasn’t?
Stage 13, commencing this afternoon, is a challenging mountain stage taking the peloton across 4 climbs in a row with narrow roadways, high gradients and endless turns. There are plenty of technical descents along the way. Most noticeably while descending from Passo San Martino, but in reality Stage 13 is “only” an Antipasti for what is really to come this weekend - Stage 14.
Billed as the Queen stage, Stage 14 is a huge, hairy mountain stage which should leave any rider in the Giro peloton nervous before its start. Taking the course over nothing less than 6 Dolomites passes with a total rise and drop of 4.700 meter. Along the way the peloton will pass the Marco Pantani mountain of Passo Sella before taking the scalps of Passo Giau and Passo Valparola. In short - if you have been half asleep during the initial broadcasts of Giro D’Italia it is now time to wake up, sit up and pay attention. You might also want to let the cat out and send the wife and kids away. That is how important this stage is.
The Sprinters may have had their chance, but the stage is now firmly handed over to the Climbers. Climbing is a skill. An art form perfected by those who are built for it. It requires patience similar to hunting. It is a waiting game. The wise will wait and wait until they unleash their powers, having zapped everyone else’s and put the final kill in to leave everyone behind.
The climbs have a cunning way of exposing the real truth of ones capabilities as a rider. Whether you are a Pro rider in the Giro D’Italia or a mere mortal like you and me the mountains don’t make any distinctions. The walls of rock are there, they will need to be conquered and the rest only the truth will reveal.
Gentlemen, please start your engines.